With a fire too close for comfort, I spent the day time-traveling

Long ago and far away….

I’ve been very lucky this week because the Napa-Sonoma fires never came closer than 30 miles to my house. However, with the fire storm moving at warp speed and winds helping to push it, we packed emergency evacuation bags. After I packed the basics — spare clothes, cash, basic toiletries, dog food, etc. — I started thinking about sentimental things that I would miss.

Truth to tell, I’m not a very sentimental person. I find possessions somewhat burdensome, and have been working slowly and sort of steadily to purge my house of all the clutter. After my Mom died, my sister (who also is not very sentimental) and I were able to decided very quickly that most of Mom’s possessions would not improve our lives or our memories. We held them one last time, said goodbye, and then threw out the things that were just “stuff” and arranged for the sale of the rest.

What we did not get rid of were the photographs and oh, boy! Did my Mom have photographs. She had a chest, roughly the size of a large foot locker, that now sits in my house, filled to the brim with photographs. A lot (almost half) are of my childhood and I’m not at all sentimental about that. I won’t throw them away, but I certainly won’t waste time scanning them.

However, the other half is family history. Over the years, my Mom laboriously sorted and labeled hundreds of photos. Since my family got around, the pictures have a certain historic charm and the “history major” in me realized that I would be unhappy if they were lost, as I enjoy looking at them. (I do not enjoy looking at photos of myself. My kids are uninterested in these photos as well, so there’s no incentive to make special efforts to preserve them for the children.)

Despite Mom’s have been gone almost two years, I was a slug and hadn’t touched the photos, so there they were, ready to be fuel for a fire. Spurred on by the thought that there was no way to carry them with me if another fire or an earthquake destroyed my home, I spent today scanning. I managed to scan almost 500 photos, taking my maternal history from the 1880s through to the eve of WWII. (My Mom came from a wealthy family, they were able to afford a lot of photos at a time when photography was an expensive hobby.)

I haven’t yet found my Dad’s photos, but I know that there are very few. He came from abysmal poverty and managed to eke together a small album of photos when he escaped Germany and then another handful of photos in Israel before he came to America and started a family. Sadly, most of the people in the photos are lost to history, as my Dad died before ever identifying them. I’m reasonably certain that many did not survive WWII.

So rather, than blog today, I thought I would share with you some of the historically interesting photos that saw me traveling back through time today. The captions are under each photo.

My grandfather, a young cavalry officer in the Kaiser’s Army, 1914


My grandfather’s commanding officer in the cavalry of the Kaiser’s Army , a man my grandfather greatly admired.


Meanwhile, this was my grandmother’s childhood home in Belgium


And another view of the same house.


My grandparents married after WWI ended and, finding work lacking on the continent, went to Batavia (the Dutch East Indies) in the very early twenties, where my grandfather had a white-collar job for the railroad. This is the cottage into which he and his new wife moved.


And these are the young couple’s Javanese servants.


Some things never change: young mothers gather, as young mothers do. I do not know what role the man behind them played, if he was a spouse or a servant.


My grandfather’s colleagues at the railroad. It’s interesting to note that there are Javanese men and women standing among them. I do not know what their jobs were.


Young people socializing in Samarang. You can see that women were a rare commodity.


The weather in lowland Samarang was hot and it flooded periodically. Here you see the train track…


Here you barely see the train track…


And here you see the train valiantly pushing the the water on a completely flooded track.


To give its white-collar employees a break from the heat, the railway had a getaway house in the mountains that they could use.


Another view of the railway’s vacation house.


The tropics proved to be too much for my grandmother’s constitution, so the young couple returned to Europe — and someone snapped this nice beach scene in Holland, circa 1924.


This is a trick photo, because it looks like a 19th century scene in Holland. In fact, this was Holland in 1954. I don’t know whether it was still the law that homemakers scrub their doorsteps every morning but this woman, wearing traditional costume was a matter of course, was hard at work. At a guess, the picture was taken in Utrecht, where one of my Mom’s friends lived.